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Respiratory complications of the rheumatological diseases in childhood
  1. Anne E Richardson1,
  2. Kishore Warrier1,
  3. H Vyas2
  1. 1Department of Paediatrics, Nottingham University Hospitals, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Department of Child Health, Nottingham University Hospital, Nottingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor H Vyas, Department of Child Health, Nottingham University Hospital, Derby Rd, Nottingham NG72UH, UK; harish.vyas{at}


Pleuropulmonary manifestations of rheumatological diseases are rare in children but pose a significant risk to overall morbidity and mortality. We have reviewed the literature to provide an overview of the respiratory complications of the commonest rheumatological diseases to occur in children (juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, juvenile dermatomyositis, mixed connective tissue disease, granulomatosis with polyangitis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis). Pulmonary function testing in these patients can be used to refine the differential diagnosis and establish disease severity, but also has a role in ongoing monitoring for respiratory complications. Early detection of pulmonary involvement allows for prompt and targeted therapies to achieve the best outcome for the child. This is best achieved with joint specialist paediatric rheumatology and respiratory reviews in a multidisciplinary setting.

  • systemic lupus
  • biologics
  • vasculitis
  • pulmonary function testing
  • Rheumatology
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Pulmonary complications of autoimmune conditions are generally rare in the paediatric age group, but they can cause significant morbidity and mortality to those children that are affected and can present acutely. Pulmonary manifestations may rarely be the first presenting symptom of the underlying diagnosis or more commonly may remain undetected as it can be asymptomatic in the majority of patients. It is, therefore, important that clinicians treating children with both rheumatological and/or respiratory conditions are aware of these complications. An understanding of how to investigate and manage these children, as well as knowing who needs regular monitoring for developing future complications, is essential to improve the prognosis for those at risk.

In this article, we will look at the extent of pulmonary involvement in the various rheumatological conditions affecting children, with an emphasis on early detection, escalation of therapy and continued monitoring of progress. The systemic inflammatory diseases with the highest likelihood of pulmonary involvement are juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus (JSLE), scleroderma (systemic sclerosis (SSc)), juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM), mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD), granulomatosis with polyangitis (GPA) and juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).1 The treatments used for pulmonary involvement are specific to the underlying disease process. It is also important to recognise that some therapeutic agents used in the treatment of rheumatological conditions are also implicated in the development of respiratory complications.2 Disease progression is monitored by the monitoring of symptoms and the use of routine pulmonary function testing (PFT) and imaging studies. Early detection and treatment of respiratory complications in rheumatological conditions is crucial to improve the overall prognosis.

Mechanisms of pulmonary involvement

Respiratory involvement can occur in nearly all of the rheumatological disorders affecting children, and the reasons for this are multifactorial. Lung structures are highly vascular and are exposed to external stimuli, organisms and toxins, making it particularly susceptible to inflammation. Macrophages ingest and degrade these inhaled antigenic stimuli and serve as antigenic presenting cells, leading to inappropriate activation of autoreactive CD4 T-lymphocyte and B-lymphocyte. This mechanism is responsible for pathogenic autoantibodies. The underlying autoimmune process determines the part of the respiratory system that will be predominately affected. Since pleura shares structures and function akin to joint synovia, it is often the commonest site for inflammation to occur. Acute expression with resolution sometimes occurs, but chronic and relapsing scenarios are more common.2

Juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus

JSLE is an autoimmune disease, characterised by the presence of a wide variety of autoantibodies resulting in multisystem inflammation and organ damage. There is significant female dominance in the postpubertal age group, which is less pronounced in younger age groups. It presents before the age of 18 in between 15% and 20% of individuals,3 with pulmonary involvement occurring in up to 40% within the first year of diagnosis, doubling that at any point in the disease course.4 The associated respiratory complications in JSLE can be categorised into acute and chronic (see table 1).

Table 1

The features of the acute and chronic pulmonary complications of juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus1 ,2

Acute respiratory deteriorations in JSLE

The pleura is the most frequently involved part of respiratory system in JSLE, with the lung parenchyma rarely associated with complications, excluding pulmonary infections. Pleuritis is a common manifestation, affecting up to 80% of paediatric patients with JSLE.2 ,5 ,6 Pleuritis with effusion is one of the diagnostic criteria for JSLE7 (serositis). This can be asymptomatic or present with dyspnoea, pleuritic pain and fever. Pleural effusions may be bilateral or unilateral, and are usually obvious on chest radiographs.6 ,8 ,9 They may also be secondary to other complications of JSLE, such as congestive cardiac failure, or hypoalbuminaemia from nephrotic-type renal disease.8 Haemorrhagic effusions associated with hypoxaemia may be a result of pulmonary infarcts or infection, thus thoracentesis of pleural effusions is a useful diagnostic test to lead to a diagnosis2 (pleural aspirates in pleuritis are exudative, so excluding an infective cause is paramount). Mild cases of pleuritis can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but more severe cases may require corticosteroids.8 Recurrent pleuritis requires immunosuppressive therapy.2 The prognosis for isolated pleuritis is generally good.

Interstitial involvement is rare in JSLE, and acute pulmonary manifestations include acute lupus pneumonitis (ALP) and alveolar haemorrhage (AH). Both conditions can present with a sudden deterioration in respiratory function, fever, dyspnoea and are often accompanied by haemoptysis—this tends to be more severe in AH with an associated fall in haemoglobin.10 They can coexist with pleuritis (causing pleuritic chest pain8) and infectious pneumonia, making the diagnosis challenging. ALP is characterised by diffuse alveolar damage secondary to inflammatory infiltrates involving the interstitium and alveolar wall.2 Despite this being an acute illness, chronic interstitial disease can develop as a complication,11 suggesting the need for regular PFT after resolution. AH is rare, but can be severe, occurring at any time during the disease process, or may be the presenting symptom. Patients often have high anti-dsDNA titres, and up to 90% have coexisting renal disease.1 ,2 ,8 Most patients have evidence of blood in lavage fluid, although the presence of haemosiderin-laden macrophages in the absence of bloody fluid is also evidence of recent bleeding. This, along with evidence of capillaritis, is indicative of AH.2 Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) samples also have a role in identifying an infective organism responsible for a pneumonia, which is useful to guide antibiotic selection. However, since infection frequently coexists with all other acute disease processes in JSLE, it is important to commence empirical antibiotics early and not to use a negative BAL analysis as an indicator to stop antibiotic therapy.2 The mortality for these conditions is high, estimated to be >50%,2 ,10 and the majority of patients require added oxygen therapy or ventilatory support.

An important consideration of acute respiratory decline in JSLE is the possibility of venous thrombosis and thromboembolic disease. This is the most common complication of antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, although the exact incidence in children is unclear. Recurrent disease may lead to development of chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension.12 It presents with dyspnoea and may exhibit symptoms of pleuritic chest pain and haemoptysis; a pleural rub may be observed. Smoking, oestrogen-contraceptive use and nephrotic-range proteinuria from renal disease are significant risk factors. These details should be established in the history.13 If suspected, it is important that clinicians consider CT imaging and Doppler ultrasounds to examine for evidence of venous thromboembolic disease in all patients with JSLE presenting with acute chest symptoms, especially in the context of known risk factors or circulating antiphospholipid antibodies. Treatment with anticoagulation agents may be necessary.

Infections in JSLE are common, often involving the respiratory system,14 and are the leading cause of death in children with JSLE.15 Patients are immunocompromised due to a variety of factors, including immunosuppressive therapy, abnormalities of complement cell-mediated immunity, reduced pulmonary macrophage and phagocytic function, and reduced airway clearance due to muscle weakness. This leaves them susceptible to opportunistic infections (fungal, cytomegalovirus, pneumocystis) as well as more common bacterial and viral pathogens.1 Empirical antimicrobial therapy should be commenced in all patients with JSLE presenting with dyspnoea and fever, especially while other diagnoses, such as those above, are being considered.

Chronic respiratory deteriorations in JSLE

Chronic interstitial lung disease (ILD) is rare in paediatric patients with JSLE,5 but it may follow as a complication of ALP.11 It may also develop more insidiously with a chronic non-productive cough, breathlessness on exertion and pleuritic chest pain. The presence of anti-Sm and anti-ribonucleoprotein (RNP) antibodies may increase the risk of ILD, although this remains controversial.16 PFTs may demonstrate an increasing restrictive pattern, and chest radiographs may demonstrate reticular interstitial infiltrates or honeycomb changes.8 The role of CT and PFT is discussed later. Some patients with chronic ILD respond to corticosteroid treatment, but rarely with marked improvement.

Pulmonary hypertension complicating JSLE is uncommon in children, but may be secondary to a variety of causes. These include chronic thromboembolism, pulmonary vasculitis, ILD and valvular heart disease.1 Proven risk factors for developing pulmonary hypertension in JSLE include the presence of Raynaud's phenomenon and the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies.2 It presents as progressive dyspnoea and hypoxaemia, which rapidly progresses to right heart failure, and occurs in up to 14% of adult patients with JSLE.17 An echocardiogram confirming elevated peak right ventricular systolic pressures in the context of clinical features should lead to a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension.2 Thus, an echocardiogram is an essential investigation in all patients with JSLE presenting with dyspnoea.

Shrinking lung syndrome is very rare in the paediatric population, but cases have been reported.18 It presents with progressive dyspnoea, tachypnoea and pleuritic chest pain, and occasionally orthopnoea. Chest radiographs reveal reduced lung volumes, with raised hemi-diaphragms and basal atelectasis. It is thought that this condition may be due to progressive diaphragmatic and intercostal muscle weakness.1 PFTs usually show a restrictive pattern,19 and diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO) may or may not be increased (the DLCO is a measurement of the ability of the lungs to transfer gas from inhaled air to the red blood cells in pulmonary capillaries). Optimal treatment is not entirely clear in the paediatric population, but corticosteroids and immunosuppressive therapy appear to be of benefit.1 ,19

The role of investigations and monitoring

Routine lung function testing will detect pulmonary complications early in JSLE, thus allowing timely and targeted treatment strategies. Plain film chest X-rays (CXRs) have traditionally been used to assess for lung involvement in JSLE, but studies show they detect abnormalities at around half the rate of PFTs with DLCO.20 ,21 PFTs commonly measured include FVC, FEV1 and FEV1/FVC ratio. A restrictive pattern in JSLE is the most commonly seen abnormality.20 DLCO is decreased in obstructive airways disease, pulmonary vascular disease and, importantly, ILD. Research on the role of PFTs and DLCO in JSLE in the paediatric population is limited, but one study that looked at a cohort of patients with JSLE who were diagnosed before the age of 16 years found that 20% of patients (who were <20 years of age at the time of testing) had a significantly reduced DLCO.22 It has also been suggested that decreased DLCO may be secondary to underlying inflammatory activity due to disease, which may give artificially significant readings.23 However, respiratory monitoring using PFTs still has a role in the paediatric setting, to monitor for early signs of respiratory decline.

High-resolution CT (HRCT) scanning is frequently used for rapid diagnosis of a variety of pulmonary conditions. Although previously there were concerns about the amount of radiation, the new low-dose CT scanners provide a highly sensitive tool, which can be used even in very young children without general anaesthetic. HRCT for detecting pulmonary complications in paediatric JSLE is more controversial. Adult studies have had variable results showing that HRCT can detect pulmonary abnormalities in between 8% and 70% of patients with JSLE.20–22 The most common abnormality found has been ILD, which interestingly has been more frequently seen than pleural changes. However, these studies have examined a much older adult population where chronic changes are likely to have occurred over a longer period of time. Crucially, however, they have demonstrated signs of ILD in more asymptomatic individuals than the PFTs with DLCO alone.20 Due to its ease to undertake, HRCT may also have a role in distinguishing pulmonary disease in those patients who are unable to tolerate other investigations or where there is diagnostic uncertainty, and may allow for targeted BAL or lung biopsy.

Granulomatosis with polyangitis

GPA (formerly called ‘Wegener's granulomatosis’) is an immune-mediated necrotising granulomatous vasculitis, of unknown aetiology, characterised by anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) directed against proteinase 3 (PR3). It is rare in children, with its peak incidence in adults in their fourth to sixth decade.1 However, it is the most common ANCA-associated vasculitis occurring in childhood.24 It usually manifests in the triad of symptoms affecting the upper airways, lower airways and kidneys. Children often present insidiously with sinus pain, dyspnoea and cough, haemoptysis, arthritis or joint pain and skin rashes or ulceration.25 ,26 Accompanied symptoms of stridor or hoarseness may be indicative of subglottic stenosis, which may occur more frequently in childhood-onset GPA than adults. Upper airway signs also include rhinorrhoea, purulent or bloody discharge, persistent otitis media with hearing loss, sinusitis, proptosis caused by extraocular pseudotumour and saddle-nose deformity.25 ,26

Pulmonary disease complicates nearly 75% of childhood cases of GPA,27 with symptoms of pleuritic pain, cough, stridor, dyspnoea and haemoptysis predominating.25 Similar to subglottic stenosis, around one-third of these patients may have stenosis in the tracheobronchial tree.28 Haemoptysis in these patients may suggest AH. About half of all children with GPA will have abnormalities seen on CXR, which are usually pulmonary nodules, cavities or fixed infiltrates.26 ,29 Figure 1 shows a teenage girl who was found to have a fluid-filled cavitating nodule on radiological imaging. Other findings may be pneumothoraces, mediastinal lymphadenopathy and pleural effusions.1 CXR changes may easily be confused with infective changes, which are also a common cause of morbidity and mortality in GPA.26

Figure 1

A fluid-filled cavitating nodule on radiological imaging in a young girl with granulomatosis with polyangitis.

Diagnosis of GPA can be made by a combination of histology, serology or clinical findings. Lung biopsy is rarely required due to the presence of skin, renal or upper airway lesions, allowing an easier and safer biopsy procedure. Serum ANCA directed at PR3 is found in 70–90% of patients with active disease and is one of the six classification criteria.24 PFTs are abnormal in up to 50% of cases, showing a mixture of obstructive and restrictive defects. Patients with laryngotracheobronchial disease often need bronchoscopy or CT scan for diagnosis. Infections may mask symptoms and account for a high level of mortality, so must be considered in all patients with known GPA and a respiratory deterioration. Treatment is usually with high-dose corticosteroids combined with any one or combination of immunosuppressive agents (such as cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, methotrexate (MTX), mycophenolate mofetil or rituximab) with an aim to achieve complete remission.24

Juvenile dermatomyositis

JDM is an inflammatory myopathy of unknown aetiology, which leads to multisystem disease. Although it is rare, it is still the commonest inflammatory myopathy of childhood. Classically, it is characterised by proximal muscle weakness, a rash and raised serum skeletal muscle enzymes. Pulmonary involvement can be subdivided into three distinct entities30:

  • A complication of neuromuscular weakness (eg, hypoventilation, aspiration pneumonia)

  • ILD

  • A complication of immunosuppressive drug therapy (as discussed later)

ILD is a frequent pulmonary complication in adults with myositis, occurring in between 30% and 50% of individuals,31 ,32 where respiratory signs prove a poor indicator for prognosis. Instead, a strong predictive factor for ILD is the presence of circulating antihistidyl transfer RNA synthetase antibodies known as anti-Jo-1.33 This pattern of ILD occurs rarely in children, but has a poor prognosis with a 5-year survival of only 70%.34 Typically, ILD presents with increasing cough and progressive dyspnoea, although it may be asymptomatic.

Early asymptomatic lung disease can be detected by the use of PFTs in this group of children. Similarly to adult studies, restrictive lung disorders are seen most frequently,32 although obstructive patterns are also seen.35 PFTs can reveal asymptomatic lung disease in around half of patients;34 ,35 interestingly, these changes are noticed at the onset of the disease as well as during follow-up. DLCO may also be low in almost half of patients,36 although this is not specific for ILD as it can occur secondary to pulmonary hypertension, which may occur in those with a variety of connective tissue diseases. HRCT is the best imaging modality to assess for signs of early ILD in adults. However, due to the disease rarity in children, a lung biopsy may still be required to confirm the diagnosis.1 In a case–control study of 59 patients with JDM,36 37% patients were found to have abnormalities on HRCT, with ILD (14%), chest wall calcinosis (14%) and airways disease (15%). They also found associated restrictive patterns on PFTs in 26% of the study population, demonstrating that HRCT is superior at diagnosing pulmonary complications.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

JIA is the most common rheumatological condition of childhood, occurring in up to 150 per 100 000 children.37 It is a heterogeneous group of diseases characterised by an arthritis that begins before the age of 16 years, persisting for at least six weeks, and for which no specific cause can be found. The International League of Associations for Rheumatology classification of JIA divided the condition into the seven subtypes: systemic, oligoarticular, polyarticular RF negative, polyarticular RF positive, enthesitis-related, psoriatic and unclassified.38

Pulmonary disease is a well-described complication of rheumatoid arthritis, leading to significant morbidity and mortality. Pulmonary complications in JIA are rare with an estimated prevalence of 4–8%.39 Radiological abnormalities include pleural effusion, pneumonitis, and interstitial reticular and nodular infiltrates. The most severe pulmonary consequences have been seen with the systemic and polyarticular subtypes of JIA.1

The commonest respiratory presentation occurs in systemic JIA (sJIA) in the form of pleuritis with or without pericarditis as a part of serositis. There is an increasing frequency of the rarer and more serious pulmonary complications associated with sJIA. These are pulmonary artery hypertension, ILD and alveolar proteinosis. These are all processes that are likely to be the result of severe uncontrolled systemic disease activity and have a high morbidity. It is unclear why reported cases of these conditions have increased over recent years, but the rising incidence may be linked to the widespread introduction of biologics, although this remains controversial.40 ,41

The use of PFTs for the diagnosis and monitoring of JIA is crucial. Studies have shown that PFT abnormalities occur in more than half of all children with JIA, with restrictive patterns seen most frequently.42 DLCO reductions are more variably reported as occurring in up to 45% of patients.1 ,2 ,42 There is a significant inverse correlation between lung function parameters and the rheumatoid factor titre, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, disease duration and duration of MTX use.42

As well as plain film X-rays and PFTs, HRCT may be better able to detect ILD at an earlier stage, and thus potentially improve the long-term prognosis. BAL may also aid in diagnosis of ILD in such cases by allowing the analysis of inflammatory cells and excluding infectious processes. However, lung biopsy is still the gold standard for assessing pleuropulmonary disease in JIA and should be considered when it is necessary to distinguish between an inflammatory, vasculitic or infectious process prior to starting therapy.2 Most patients with pulmonary disease proven by biopsy are rheumatoid factor positive. The mainstay of treatment for JIA is NSAIDs and intra-articular corticosteroids. However, many children require second-line MTX, or even biological agents, which as discussed later are implicated in lung injury.

Scleroderma/systemic sclerosis

SSc is rare in children, occurring in an estimated 0.05 per 100 000 children,43 although an estimated 10% of adults have the onset of their disease in childhood.44 It is a connective tissue disease characterised by tightening and sclerosis of the skin. It occurs in two forms: ‘limited’ and ‘diffuse’. The diffuse form occurs more frequently in children, in approximately 90% of cases,45 involving multiple organ systems that may overlap with other connective tissue disorders. SSc is an autoimmune vasculopathy characterised by significant endothelial damage, mediated by cytokines such as endothelin-1. Pulmonary involvement in SSc is considered common enough (around 50%) to be included as one of the minor diagnostic criteria, although patients are often asymptomatic. The two major forms of lung involvement are ILD (which is most common46) and pulmonary hypertension. Symptoms of ILD such as dyspnoea and cough, and radiographic changes such as groundglass opacities and reticular patterns are only found in 10–25% of children. HRCT and PFTs (demonstrating a reduced DLCO) are more sensitive in detecting early asymptomatic ILD, and thus serial PFTs are the best way to monitor for lung disease in SSc.

Mixed connective tissue disease

MCTD was first described as a distinct rheumatological condition in 1972.47 It is characterised by the presence of features from a variety of autoimmune conditions (primarily JSLE, scleroderma and dermatomyositis) as well as detectable serum anti-RNP autoantibodies. It is rare in children, accounting for only 0.1–0.5% of paediatric rheumatology cases.48 To diagnose MCTD, the following three criteria must be met49:

  1. Raynaud's phenomenon

  2. detectable anti-RNP antibodies

  3. one abnormal sign/symptom from either JSLE, SSc or dermatomyositis

Presentation often occurs slowly over time, with some patients being labelled as having ‘undifferentiated connective tissue disease’ before meeting the diagnostic criteria.1 Pulmonary involvement develops in up to 75% of adult patients with MCTD,50 and although the exact prevalence in children is unknown, it is thought to be similar. The main respiratory complications are pleural effusions, pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension. Patients with MCTD are less likely to develop severe renal or central nervous system involvement compared with JSLE, so it is, therefore, felt to have a better prognosis than those conditions. However, if pulmonary complications develop, they cause a significant increase in mortality, especially if complicated by pulmonary hypertension (which is less common in children than in adults).1 The clinical course can be variable, so treatment is specific to the complications encountered, and the conventional therapies used for JSLE, SSc and JDM are effective.


Sarcoidosis is a chronic inflammatory multisystem disease of unknown aetiology that rarely affects children. It is characterised by epithelioid cell granulomatous lesions that are non-caseating (which therefore differ from those in GPA) and can develop in many different organs, predominately the lung. There are two distinct presentations in children. The first is known as early-onset sarcoidosis and has a favourable prognosis. It occurs at the age of ≤4 years of age and has a triad of skin rash, uveitis and arthritis. It is thought to be a sporadic form of Blau's syndrome. It rarely presents with respiratory complications.1 ,2

In children >8 years of age, the classical sarcoidosis, which presents similarly in adults, tends to predominate. Granulomas can occur in any organ, but are most common in the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes skin and liver.1 Pulmonary involvement can occur in up to 100% with evidence of abnormalities on CXRs, which may even precede clinical symptoms.51–53 The pulmonary lymph nodes and pulmonary parenchyma are most commonly affected. Common symptoms of respiratory involvement are exertional dyspnoea, chest pain, cough and wheeze, although many may be asymptomatic. Radiographic changes are divided into the categories seen in table 2, with the majority of children presenting with stage I disease (61–71%).51 ,54 PFTs may be normal in stage 0 or stage I disease, but a restrictive pattern with decreased DLCO is the most common abnormality.54

Table 2

The classification of chest X-ray changes by stage in sarcoidosis

Progression of granulomatous lung lesions to pulmonary fibrosis (stage IV) and thus end-stage lung disease is a fatal complication of sarcoidosis. Other serious complications include the development of bronchiectasis or chronic infections. Such concerning infections include the development of an aspergilloma in damaged tissue, which may present with haemoptysis. In some patients, lung disease spontaneously resolves within two years. Treatment is considered for those with lung disease in the higher stages, where corticosteroids are first line, followed by MTX and hydroxychloroquine.1

Drug-induced pulmonary complications

A variety of drugs are used for rheumatological conditions that may themselves produce respiratory side effects. There is an obvious link between immunosuppressant therapy and the acquisition of opportunistic infections. MTX is an immunosuppressive drug used commonly in JIA and other rheumatological conditions in children. Pulmonary toxicity is a well-established side effect of MTX treatment and manifests in a variety of presentations, the most common being hypersensitivity pneumonitis, with an incidence between 1% and 2%.55 It is more prevalent in the adult population and typically presents with dry cough, fever and dyspnoea, and can be hard to differentiate from an infective process. CXRs may reveal interstitial or alveolar infiltrates, although routine PFTs and HRCTs have not been shown to be useful when monitoring at-risk patients for toxicity.55 MTX should be discontinued and high-dose corticosteroids may be required. Other pulmonary manifestations of MTX toxicity include pulmonary fibrosis, organising pneumonia, acute lung injury and reactive airways disease.2

With the newer biological agents used in rheumatological conditions, infection remains the commonest respiratory complication. Such infections are usually opportunistic, although the tumour necrosis factor-α inhibitors increase the risk of the reactivation of latent tuberculosis.2 Thus, it is imperative to screen for latent tuberculosis prior to the commencement of such therapies.55 There is evidence of rituximab leading to the development of ILD in adults,56 presenting with dyspnoea, tachypnoea, fever and hypoxaemia. HRCT and PFTs help to establish the diagnosis. Unsurprisingly with this agent's increasing spectrum of use for different pathologies, there is a case report of this complication affecting a paediatric patient.57

Other drugs often used in rheumatological conditions may cause a clinical picture of interstitial pneumonitis (see table 3). A failure to recognise pulmonary toxicity of drugs may lead to their continuation and thus compound the destructive process. This is important in conditions where pulmonary complications of the disease itself are well known and where drug-induced pulmonary toxicity may not be the initial concern.

Table 3

Commonly used rheumatological drugs and their respiratory side effects

The role of respiratory monitoring

As outlined in the descriptions above, respiratory involvement can occur in the majority of rheumatological conditions affecting children and may be even asymptomatic. Therefore, there is a role for the regular pulmonary function screening tests to be undertaken at regular intervals to observe for any decline, so that targeted interventions can happen early. We suggest that outpatient reviews should be held jointly between paediatric rheumatologists and respiratory physicians, working together to monitor for early pulmonary involvement. These clinics offer an opportunity to undertake extensive lung function testing, and consideration of further investigations such as HRCT and DLCO. This is also an opportune time to discuss lifestyle measures such as smoking avoidance. This model has allowed us to pickup pulmonary involvement in these patients early, even if many of them are asymptomatic.

This partnership allows for ad hoc reviews of patients presenting acutely with respiratory symptoms such as cough, dyspnoea, chest tightness or sleep disturbance. It is, however, crucial that any paediatrician who may encounter a child with a rheumatological condition presenting either acutely or insidiously is aware of the respiratory complications outlined in this article. The awareness and prompt investigation and treatment of the pulmonary manifestations of these rheumatological conditions may be the key factor in determining prognosis.


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  • Contributors The authors contributed equally to the writing of this review.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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